In the church tradition from which we come, we are accustomed to being taught (correctly) that we are saved by faith alone. Many of us who grew up in church had verses like Romans 3.28 stamped on our memories: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” And even those of us who haven’t been in church that long have at least had this truth ingrained on our minds—we are saved by faith in Jesus, not by doing good works. How true!
But as we’ve matured in faith; as we’ve read our Bibles, many of us have come across a bit of a trip-line in James 2. Check out verse 24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” ‘WHAT? Justified by works?! That can’t be right, can it?’ Well, not only can it be…it is. It is right there in the Bible. And it seems like Paul and James are arguing on two totally different sides. And we might think that if we did not believe that God wrote the Bible. But since we believe God told both Paul and James what to write, their writings must somehow blend together to make one cohesive truth. And I believe they do…
What Paul is saying is clear—faith alone saves. James would agree. He’s just flipping the faith coin over so we can see what is on the other side—namely, good works. James knew that faith alone saved. He was simply pointing out that true saving faith is always accompanied and demonstrated by good works.
The people of other centuries explained this two-sided coin with a phrase that went something like this: It is faith alone that saves, but saving faith is never alone. In other words, if all you had was faith in Christ … that would be good enough to make you right with God; good enough to swing open the door of heaven. But the truth is that, when God grants a person faith, He always gives it in a package deal with love, a desire for holiness, and the Law written on our hearts.
Perhaps an illustration would help. Say the cabinet above your stove becomes so warped from steam that it is completely jammed shut. Try as you might, you cannot pull it open and get to the food inside. But along I come and give you a multi-purpose tool—a screwdriver, knife, fingernail file, allen wrench, box-cutter, and scissors all in one, pocket-knife type of contraption. So you unfold the screwdriver, turn the screws that hold the cabinet's hinges in place, remove the hinges, and off pops the door.
Now it would be totally correct to say: “The screw-driver alone got me into the cabinet.” No one would argue that. Neither the scissors nor the knife enabled you to get to your Cheerios. But those tools DID come in the package deal with the screw-driver. You couldn’t have gotten one without the other.
The same is true with faith. Faith in Jesus alone gets you into a relationship with God. Loving your neighbor, going to church, paying your tithes could never do that. But those kinds of things DO come in a package deal with faith. You cannot have one without the other!
And to carry the illustration further, remember that opening a shut door is not the only use for that screwdriver. It’s also helpful in putting up shelves, hanging pictures, and installing your air-filters! So it is with faith. Faith does not stop working when it believes on Jesus and the door of heaven swings open. It continues as a day-by-day trust in the Lord. And it is that day-by-day trust in the Lord that allows us to give money away, pray for our enemies, study our Bibles, etc. If we trust the Lord to bless our obedience, we will follow Him whole-heartedly—and good works will be the inevitable result! So not only is saving faith accompanied by a desire for good works…but it also positively produces the good works!
So we may both “maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law” and at the same time “see that a man is justified by works and not by faith (that is alone) alone.” Because true faith is never alone, but always shows up with its friends!